As the plane began its final descent towards Cape Town International Airport and the majestic Table Mountain appeared in the distance against a clear blue sky, the first thought that came into my mind wasn’t how beautiful a view I was experiencing. Instead, a sudden panic came across me as reality began to hit. What was I doing? Why did I choose to spend, of all places, another summer in South Africa? Why was I subjecting myself to another Cape Town winter of endless rain? Why was I going to force myself to see the uncomfortable pain of poverty on a daily basis? Why was I going back to a city and a country that is still desperately struggling with racial conflict, economic disparity, high unemployment, and prevalent crime?
So as I landed on Wednesday morning after more than 30 hours of travel, I wasn’t exactly prepared. Two straight days of overnight flights left me unbearably tired, and I didn’t feel ready for my summer to begin. It didn’t seem real that I was back in South Africa, and I felt like I should have spent more than 4 days at home before heading off again. Moreover, I really had no clue what to expect from my housing situation, and I feared being stuck by myself in a dirty, substandard apartment.
Wednesday afternoon, after dropping my baggage off at the house where I am staying, I headed off to downtown Cape Town to pay a visit to the District Six Museum and let them know that I had arrived. I caught a minibus taxi on the main road leading into town (unlike last summer, I am living outside of the city center and cannot walk to work), and jumped inside. The three rows of seats were jam-packed with black and colored South Africans, and as a white American, I was out of my element. When we got to the taxi station downtown, I got out and had to walk through a large outdoor marketplace where street vendors were hawking everything from produce to clothes to electronics. And when I had finally arrived at the museum and spoke with my boss Mandy, we sat down in the museum’s café with some of my co-workers, and a political debate about the recent national elections erupted.
Feeling racial difference, seeing the sights of South Africans going about their daily lives, and hearing the passion and fervor of my co-workers when they spoke about local and national politics—real issues that they believe impact their lives at a personal level—I was reminded what I love about this country. My doubts and questioning seemed to fade a bit, and I felt at home, as it I had never left.
While I am feeling a lot better about being away from home, some misgivings linger. I am a bit daunted by the amount of work that lies ahead with both my research for my history thesis and my work for the District Six Museum. And on the home front, my housing situation is a bit of a mixed bag. The room that I am staying in is not that nice, but the kitchen is very large and has been recently remodeled. Plus, there are several other students from the US (2 from UNC) and Germany living here, so I have some sort of a community. However, Mandy told me that the 100 Rand a night price tag is too high, and she is looking into alternative places for me to rent. I’ll keep you posted on what happens there.
For the most part, I am adjusting to life back in South Africa pretty well. Jet lag wasn’t two bad (especially after a 14 hour sleep my first night here), and I am quickly re-familiarizing myself with all of my old favorite restaurants, shops, and bars. Overall, I am excited to see what the next nine weeks have in store.
Here’s to hoping that my first weekend back in SA goes well…I will post after then.